Ethiopian, Astral look for growth beyond Africa

Africa’s most outward-looking cargo carriers used this week’s Africa Air Cargo Summit in Addis Ababa to outline their expansion plans as they look to take advantage of international interest in the African economy. Both Ethiopian Cargo and Astral Aviation have medium-term plans to add freighters and/or international cargo hubs in Africa.

Astral Aviation CEO Sanjeev Gadhia said his company wanted to add widebody and narrowbody freighters in the near future. Gadhia said Astral was looking to lease two 747Fs for operations outside of Africa, as well as six 737-400Fs for the continent.

He also discussed plans to add hubs in West and South Africa. In addition to the carrier’s primary hub in Nairobi, Gadhia said there were plans to establish two more: one in Johannesburg and another in either Accra, Ghana, or Lagos, Nigeria. Additional hubs are necessary because “the continent is too big and the distances are too big,” he said. “You need to have a multi-hub strategy for Africa.”

Astral also intends to increase East African routes from eight to 14, while also becoming a full IATA member next year. According to Gadhia, the intra-African market is growing between 10 and 15 percent annually.

At Ethiopian Cargo, the carrier’s 2025 strategy is shaping up to include a much larger fleet.  Its CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam, said he plans to almost double the carrier’s fleet from the current ten freighters to 18. Ethiopian currently operates two 757Fs and six 777Fs.

Gebremarium also outlined plans to grow cargo revenues. With cargo constituting around 15 percent of total revenue and US$425 million today, Gebremariam wants an over-400 percent increase in revenue to $2 billion by 2025. This would involve an increase of the airline’s annual tonnage from the current 350,000 tonnes to 820,000 tonnes in the next nine years. When the new Addis Ababa hub is complete, the airline will offer a total capacity of 1.2 million tonnes per year.

The $115 million cargo facility will be the largest in Africa and handle up to eight freighters at a time. Addis Ababa will also boast a receiving area of 14,000 square meters and a skid storage space of 18,000 square meters.

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